Sunday, April 19, 2015

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver: Too Much for Too Little

I have some other blog topics playing in my head, but I still struggle with the energy to do "spare time" writing.  In my ideal vision, I'll be on my way to healthy(ish?) soon and then be able to amass enough freelance work to consider it my career.  I can't decide if that would leave me jazzed to return to more active blogging or stymied by writing then being all work...

I am glad, however, that I've already been returning to reading more often and, therefore (to throw too much in one sentence), a review...

Kingsolver was, for a time, my favorite actively-writing author.  Far too often, I seem to fall in love with the type of books that are one-time affairs and I can't pick up additional/future pieces by the author.  For a while, however, after being introduced to her by the manager of my college bookstore way longer ago than I care to admit, Kingsolver was an exception.  Her characters and her gift for place drew me.  

I gradually fell back a bit in my fan-dom, but I was still quite excited to be able to receive an advance-readers'-edition of her newest book from the lovely folks at Harper.  I started it...and I couldn't manage more than a couple dozen pages.  The lines were wordy, still evocative but I felt like the effort had doubled while my interest diminished.  I put it aside.  I recently picked Flight Behavior up again after gaining control of my to-read pile.  This time, I made it through.  

The opening chapter finds Dellarobia (I'll call her Della for ease, although she'd protest) ready to leave behind her husband and two kids for a much younger man.  She's hiking through the water-logged landscape of rural Tennessee when a sight arrests her.  Call it a miracle, call it fate, something amazingly beautiful is hidden on the edge of her in-laws' land and she returns home.  What follows is a many-faceted, complex affair (not the affair Della planned!).  Something has brought "visitors" to Appalachia, visitors that are arrestingly beautiful but carry a complex tale.  Many turn to religion, a powerful force in the world Kingsolver portrays, yet one with a less-than-admirable element of social structure and grown folk acting like popularity-obsessed teens.  Others seem bent on something close to denial.  Eventually, another (human) visitor arrives with a tale of climate change and science that leaves Della evaluating all she's ever known.

I wanted to like this -- I'm amenable to some parts of the social (and liberal) agenda and Kingsolver holds a dear spot in my heart -- but, even on a second approach, I struggled to get through it.  In her early works, Kingsolver drew true-feeling characters, landscapes and stories "with real toads in them" but that remain incredibly readable..simple texts that still managed to be round and full.  Her more recent works have gotten more complex in their language.  Sometimes that works beautifully.  Here, however, she loses me.  The language and the plot itself are, to put it plainly, too much work and, to put it bluntly, not worth it.  She's thrown it all vs. religion, modern vs. traditional, family vs. newcomers...even the often unacknowledged pain of a lost baby.  There are bright spots -- Della's children whose abundant personalities show traces of who they'll become despite their tender ages are far and away my favorite characters -- but not enough.  I'm willing to "work" for a book, I'll read books that are far from easy, but I need to feel the text rewards the effort.  This, sadly, did not.  

Two to two-and-a-half stars.  There are some lovely pieces but they get lost in the 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle without so much as a defined border.

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